No one understands tragedy when it happens, except for God. When a tragedy takes place, some people are quick to question, "Where was God?" And there are those who think they can explain it, Christians and non-believers alike. It is presumptuous for any human to say they know why this or that tragedy happens.
The recent, senseless murder of nine people in an AME church in Charleston, SC, once again forced us to deal with tragedy and the influence of evil. The testimony of the victim's family and church leaders showed the proper response—to see things from God's perspective of mercy, forgiveness, and love, and they chose to express this.
A few discouraging events came to my attention this past week. They prompted me to reflect on my own quickness to judge, and my reluctance towards honest self-searching that leads to humility and self-denial. These were tragic events, but not overtly evil. They involved moral failure, temptation, and abandonment of the faith.
Here are five simple thoughts, you could call them reasons, why believers need to pursue mercy rather than judgment. It's hard to see injustice, immorality, and evil seem to go unchecked, but we need to remember the nature of the One we follow. I know how easy my own thoughts turn to harsh reactions, but I know this leads to hardness of heart, something I can't afford.
Lay down the stones
We need to lay down the stones of judgment we so quickly gather to cast at those caught in sin. Our hearts need to be like Jesus, when confronted by Jewish leaders regarding a woman caught in the act of adultery–
“Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7
If you're unfamiliar with this story, it is found in John 8:3-11. Although the Jewish leaders thought they had Jesus trapped, so He would either go against the Law of Moses or give in to their self-righteous demand for judgment, He surprised them. They were all convicted of their own sin and laid their stones of judgment down.
None of us is worthy or righteous enough to judge others, even when we think we see things so well (Matt 7:1-5).
None of us are immune
None of us are immune to the efforts of the enemy of our souls. His goal is the same as always—to deceive, to make sin attractive, and pervert our freedom of choice. He is ever-persistent to entrap us in whatever form of sin we are most susceptible or prone to embrace.
A missionary friend posted an article (Take Heed) that articulated this point well. It begins—
Bernard of Clairvaux once mentioned an old man who, upon hearing about any professing Christian who fell into sin, would say to himself: “He fell today; I may fall tomorrow.”
Here is the apostle Paul's admonition—
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 1 Cor 10:12
When we sin (not if)
When we sin (not if), we need to own it as our own. When we project blame onto others or because of a situation, we seek to justify ourselves. True repentance is seen in King David's classic expression of his heart towards God—
Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight... Psalm 51:4
A great danger for all of us is when we minimize our own failure, and begin to justify it in some way. This is what Adam did in the garden, he projected blame onto Eve, and she onto the serpent. Indeed, the serpent was at fault, but so were each of them. True repentance points no fingers, but approaches God with a brokenness of spirit and a humble heart. As King David declared—
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. Psalm 51:17
Be quick to restore
We need to be quick to restore those who fall, rather than be quick to condemn them. We all want mercy, but we aren't so quick to extend it to others, even when they cry out for it. I'm reminded of the parable of the unmerciful servant that Jesus told after Peter wanted to know how many times he should forgive someone.
The parable tells of a king who calls in the debts of his servants. One who owed a great deal pleads for mercy and is shown it. But then he finds a fellow servant, demands for a small debt to be repaid, and has this fellow servant thrown into prison. Other servants tell this to the king who is angered towards the first forgiven debtor—
"Shouldn’t you have mercy on your fellow servant, just as I had mercy on you?" Matthew 18:33 NLT
Our responsibility towards those who have fallen is restoration, not judgment. But this requires gracious humility. As Paul reminded the church in Galatia—
Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path. And be careful not to fall into the same temptation yourself. Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important. Gal 6:1-3 NLT
Mercy triumphs over judgment
Instead of weighing in with our own opinions on this or that, let's consider how Jesus handled the situation with the woman caught in adultery, or the woman at the well (John 4:10-17). Jesus didn't excuse sin, nor condone it in any way. He offered mercy instead of judgment.
When Jesus and His disciples encountered opposition in Samaria, James and John wanted to call down fire in judgment. But Jesus turned and rebuked them saying—
“You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” Luke 9:55-56 NKJV
God has called true followers of Jesus into freedom and grace, not judgment. So, we all would do well to remember this admonition from James, the half-brother of Jesus—
So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty.
For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:12-13
Those last few words always stand out to me—mercy triumphs over judgment.
I'm thankful for that, aren't you?